35 injured as protests turn violent for second night in Lebanon

Clay Curtis
January 17, 2020

Security forces fired several rounds of tear gas while protesters lobbed rocks and fireworks.

Secretary General of Lebanese Red Cross Georges Kettaneh announced on Wednesday that 35 people were injured in the evening clashes between the Lebanese army and protesters in Mar Elias, Beirut, LBCI local TV channel reported.

The central bank did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. For the second night in a row, some protesters smashed the windows of a private bank and destroyed a nearby ATM machine.

"There is a lot of anger", Alia, a passerby, told AFP.

Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr stated the atmosphere on the streets has been tense. "Unfortunately the chaos is because of the politicians", said Hamra shopkeeper Mohammad al-Rayyes. Lebanon's Internal Security forces later said "vandals" attacked the central bank and injured a number of the personnel guarding it.

Following a brief lull, Lebanese protesters returned to the streets, blocking several roads around the capital, Beirut, and other areas of the country on Tuesday in renewed rallies against a ruling elite they say has failed to address the economy's downward spiral.

Even as banks cap withdrawals, the value of the Lebanese pound to the United States dollar has fallen by nearly half of the parallel exchange market.

Although no formal policy is in place, most lenders have arbitrarily capped withdrawals at around $1,000 a month, while others have imposed tighter restrictions.

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Demonstrators accuse banks of holding their deposits hostage while allowing politicians, senior civil servants and bank owners to move funds overseas. The local currency has lost over 60% of its value - dropping for the first time in almost three decades from a fixed rate of 1,507 pounds to the dollar to 2,400 in just the past few weeks. Last month, academic Hassan Diab was chosen as the new prime minister of Lebanon by the parliamentary groups.

The demonstrators said that they refused Diab's appointment because it would empower corrupted political parties who were adopting the same old concept of arguing about shares in the government, which should not be the case amid the current pressing economic and financial challenges prevailing in the country.

Intensifying the scenario, debt-burdened Lebanon has been without a government because Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on October 29 under pressure from the anti-government protests.

The official rate was set at 1,507 Lebanese pounds per dollar in 1997.

Meanwhile, Hariri and speaker of the parliament, Nabih Beri, condemned the violent protests against the banks.

"Another day of confusion around the formation of a government, amidst the increasingly angry protests and free-falling economy", Kubis tweeted.

The move appeared to be a step towards probing movements of money out of Lebanon by politicians and influential people after a long-brewing economic and political crisis accelerated in October with the onset of mass protests that swept the nation.

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